11 companies that have adopted unlimited holidays (and what they found)
The premise is simple. Work hard, get everything you’re tasked with completed and spend as much time as you’d like on paid vacation in return.
That’s the dream affording unlimited holidays to employees offers and, on the surface, it sounds like it could be a great idea – and it’s catching on. Jobs board Reed reported a 20% hike in the number of new openings advertising unlimited holidays as part of the benefits package. And in a competitive job market where perks, wellbeing and work/life balance initiatives can be key to attracting the best industry talent, unlimited holidays are a great addition to offer potential recruits.
IBM were one of the first high-profile organizations to scrap traditional annual leave policies. However, today you are just as likely to see a new start-up attracting talent with the promise of a greater work/life balance or of long summers on the beach.
But does it work? What have the companies who have trialed unlimited paid vacations found along the way?
Here’s a look at 11 of those companies:
Already ranked by Forbes as one of the best employers in the world, Netflix began offering unlimited holidays to its employees back when the firm was shipping DVDs around America in 2010.
With employees regularly working an irregular workday – sending emails on weekends and making fixes in the evenings – the traditional policy of ‘use them or lose them’ wasn’t working for staff – especially when the hours they worked each day weren’t being tracked either.
So, management implemented a change, and that change was focusing more on what their people got done and not how many hours or days they’ve worked.
“Just as we don’t have a nine to five policy, we don’t need a vacation policy.”
Workers are entrusted to take as much time off as they need. There’s no tracking of days and no restrictions – it’s totally up to them – so long as their line manager has a general idea of where they are and when they’re planning to go.
In 2015, LinkedIn shifted to offering unlimited holidays in a bid to give their employees more flexibility and a sense of empowerment – befitting of one of their organizational values of ‘Act like an owner’.
The initiative was termed ‘Discretionary Time Off’ (DTO) where there is no set minimum or maximum amount of vacation days an employee can take in a year. Instead, staff work with their manager to request time off when they need it.
As Pat Wadors, then SVP Global Talent Organisation wrote in a LinkedIn post: “We believe DTO… will give our employees the ability to better meet their personal needs, which will then allow them to bring their best self to work.”
One of the largest and longest-standing specialist digital agencies in the UK, Visualsoft reaped the benefits of offering unlimited holidays to its staff in 2014 as part of its new flexible work package. Just one year into the new initiative, they reported an increase in staff morale, creativity, productivity and even client satisfaction.
“If you trust the people you work with to do the job in hand, they actually do.”
CEO Dean Benson said the company introduced the scheme as a way of giving staff the flexibility they deserve – whether they’re working from home, or answering emails and client calls on the go.
“It’s down to the employee to decide whether or not he or she wants to come into the office, and also how much time off they deserve, as long as they are satisfied with the job they are doing.”
Benson reported that in 12 months they hadn’t seen a single case of the new scheme being abused, although some employees still prefer the traditional nine to five schedule.
Evernote does things a little differently by offering a yearly vacation stipend to their employees. Staff are encouraged to take time off to relax and recharge – and it’s certainly easier to do so with a $1,000 budget to travel anywhere they like.
They’re literally paying employees to take a vacation, and a good one at that, as part of their efforts to create an environment where ‘all our employees feel valued and empowered’.
The company is scored highest on Glassdoor for its work/life balance as a result, as well as rating highly for compensation and benefits.
TV streaming app Roku doesn’t track vacation days for their salaried employees either. They don’t even have official holidays. Instead, staff are encouraged to take as many vacation days as they think are appropriate – so long as they can get their job done and it doesn’t impact their wider team.
“We believe you can be highly productive at work and still have plenty of time for life outside of the office.”
The returns? Great Glassdoor reviews from new and experienced staff members, a 72% net promoter score and impressive marks given for compensation and benefits – as well as a great work/life balance.
Not every firm that’s offered unlimited holidays has seen the benefits.
Founded in 2015, software firm CharlieHR offered all employees fully paid unlimited holidays, no matter where they sat within the organization. But it didn’t last long before being replaced by an alternative flexible working policy.
COO Ben Gately explained to the BBC last year that his employees ended up not taking enough holidays, and a huge amount of anxiety around not knowing the limit as well as preparing handovers and meeting deadlines saw average vacation days drop.
“We’ve decided that offering teams an unlimited holiday allowance just doesn’t work – but probably not for the reasons you think.”
In his article on the company’s blog explaining his decision to revoke the policy, Gately said that: “If you are given 25 days holiday that are yours to take, then you are subconsciously motivated to take them. It’s some kind of psychological quirk of ownership – when something belongs to you, then you immediately value it far more highly.
“Whereas the lack of a number – the very concept of unlimited – potentially meant you didn’t value that holiday time in the same way.”
GitHub is as flexible as it gets when it comes to taking time off from the office. The software giant offers employees great family leave (including four months for either parent), flexible hours, unlimited sick time and – of course – unlimited vacation days too. They also offer additional benefits for non-contracted workers including quarterly volunteer days.
As one employee wrote in 2016: “It (unlimited holidays) told me this company valued its employees, wanted them to not burn out, and trusted them to behave like stakeholders in the company and be responsible about their vacation.”
The outcome of all the generous flexible working schemes has been a strong 4/5 Glassdoor rating, 83% approval of the CEO from employees and extremely high marks for compensation, benefits and work/life balance too.
Mammoth CEO Nathan Christensen implemented unlimited holidays in the summer of 2014 and found some mixed results after a year of running the initiative.
A smaller company than the others within this article, the idea behind the initiative was to convey trust in their employees and that the firm supported their family lives.
The upshot was that the initiative became the third most popular benefit with employees, only beaten by health insurance and a 401(k). The potential downside was that, despite being given almost complete freedom on how many vacation days they could take, Christensen’s team took pretty much as many holidays as they did before.
“Unlimited vacation is at least as valuable for what it says as for what it does.”
In a reflective article on Fastcompany, Christensen noted that the real benefit of offering unlimited holidays was the subtle messaging it sends out from the company to its employees. First, it’s an acknowledgment that staff have lives and demands outside of work. Second, it conveys trust and third, unlimited holidays treat employees as individuals. They can take as much or as little time off as they need based on how they work and their family commitments, in order to live healthily and productively and to adapt to changes in circumstance.
Kronos CEO Aron Ain discussed at length his decision to implement unlimited holidays in a reflective piece in the Harvard Business Review, including his reasoning, the challenges and outcomes. Launched within the US and Canadian employee-base, he was surprised at the amount of kick-back from some employees – especially those which had banked unused vacation days as a means to acquiring a larger retirement payout.
But he stuck with it, even after seeing other companies try unlimited holidays and revert to a set policy not long after.
“As far as I know, no employee has abused the policy, and no customer has suffered.”
The outcome from implementing the scheme was a slight increase in the average number of holiday days taken per employee per year, rising from 14.0 to 16.6. This, however, coincided with a great year for financial results, something which Ain suggests is directly correlated.
“Happy, engaged employees can make a company more profitable, and our policy makes employees happier and more engaged.”
Employee engagement scores did in fact rise from an already healthy 84% to 87% after the launch of the new vacation initiative.
Buffer is well regarded as a great place to work. In fact, we wrote about their approach to improving employee wellbeing just last year. The social media software company offered unlimited vacation time like many other tech firms in the US but encountered a problem – lots of employees were taking less than 15 days a year.
“Our solution to getting people at Buffer to take more time off was to set a standard minimum vacation time of three weeks per year for the whole company, in the hopes that we might inch our team towards the 15- to 20-days range of vacation time.”
To get around this and to not abandon the ideology behind unlimited paid time off they needed to help employees feel guilt-free about taking vacation, so Buffer implemented a minimum vacation policy which was more detailed on how and why employees should be taking more holidays. The executive team led by example and implemented a reminder system to break old habits and get staff thinking about when they could take some time for themselves and their families.
Back in 2015 when Kickstarter was only a start-up itself, the first wave of employees were offered unlimited holidays. At the time it was on-trend and a great perk to get great minds through the front door. But it didn’t take long for the soon-to-be tech giant to ditch the policy in favor of a traditional (albeit still quite generous) 25 days a year – and the need for guidelines was the primary reason.
“What we found was that by setting specific parameters around the number of days, there was no question about how much time was appropriate to take from work to engage in personal, creative, and family activities.”
Why? Because staff in a fast-paced start-up environment just weren’t taking any holidays at all and were burning out faster as a result. Capping the number of vacation days set a precedent and expectation as to how many days off the company viewed as appropriate to find the balance between working hard and enjoying a life outside of the office too.
Interested in what other great perks organizations are offering to help attract and retain the best talent out there? Here are 20 companies leading the way when it comes to employee perks and benefits.